"Chance gone begging." It's not a phrase we use often in American sports. Generally associated with that moment in soccer when a striker has yards of goal to shoot at and instead scuffs a shot meekly at the keeper, a chance gone begging is that opportunity when everything breaks right, sets up as perfectly as possible, but then is squandered. Last night, on the heels of a game changing 17-5 run, Xavier's final chance went begging.
That's not to say that everything went the Musketeers way in this game and they just blew it at the end. No, the situation was about as adverse as it could be. Hinkle Fieldhouse, absolute barn that it is, was rocking last night, Butler was playing the kind of defense that wins conference games, and the game under the basket had dissolved into something like a fistfight, only with fewer rules. The first half was the kind of dogfight that everyone now expects when they hear there is a Xavier/Butler game occurring. Travis Taylor, Jeff Robinson, Semaj Christon, and Justin Martin all ended up in foul trouble, forcing Coach Mack to extend a bench weakened by the loss of Landen Amos.
With nine minutes to play in the opening frame, Xavier was reeling. Down seven and not getting much anything from anyone, the Musketeers were in real trouble of being blitzed off the court in a game they absolutely had to win. But these Musketeers have faced diversity before this year, and they came back swinging. A 10-3 run knotted the game at 20 as Justin Martin (5/1/0) scored his only points of the game and Semaj Christon (20/2/5) buried a three pointer off the dribble. As quickly as Hinkle had gotten loud, it quieted.
That crowd became a subplot of the game. When Butler was making a run, the old barn rafters shook. But, as soon as Xavier countered, the place would frequently become tomb quiet. After watching a Xavier or VCU home game, it becomes apparent that the famed "Hinkle magic" doesn't come from the home crowd. The place did get loud again after an Andrew Smith lay in sent the game to the half with Butler leading, 26-25.
If the first half was a struggle for Xavier, the second started even worse. After a bit of back and forth, the Bulldogs went on a 12-2 run over the next four minutes to stretch the lead to 47-37 with 10:49 to play. At that point, it was hard to see a way back for Xavier. Surely, this was a bridge too far for the Musketeers. Dead and all but buried on the road, their at large hopes hanging by the very tiniest of threads, Xavier was going to need some sort of miracle to get back into the game and the tournament discussion.
That miracle came in the form of a 17-5 run the hushed the crowd and thrust the Musketeers into a four point lead with only 5:13 to play. "Let's go, Muskies" echoed through the building as the home crowd watched in stunned silence as their lead evaporated. The run started much as anyone would have thought, with a Semaj jumper. After that, Isaiah Philmore (16/11/0), a monster all game, knocked in a jumper of his own. After that, of course, Erik Stenger (8/2/0) took over, scoring five quick points and converting three free throws. Two more bucket from Semaj and two more free throws from the suddenly insatiable Philmore, and the Musketeers were in touching distance. The chance was there on a tee, all that remained was to tuck it away.
But they didn't. Butler scored six straight to take back the lead as Xavier failed to get a stop on three straight possessions. Philmore tied the game back up, then Rotnei Clarke made two free throws, Travis Taylor pulled it back even, then Kameron Woods knocked down a short corner jumper. Not to be denied, Philmore tied it again with 1:04 to play. Kellen Dunham went to the line and converted two to put Butler back in the lead. After a timeout, Xavier ran the play that would tie the game back up or turn it into a fouling situation. After perfect decoys from Semaj and a well guarded Brad Redford (0/2/0), Dee Davis found Isaiah Philmore open in the post with only Andrew Smith at his back.
Xavier's goggled big man has been developing all year. After taking some time to warm to the new competition, Philmore has shouldered (often literally) his way into the lane and started making plays. His best game to date happened yesterday, and now all he had to do was score once more to put the pressure back on Butler. Unfortunately, his right hand flip landed on the front rim and slid agonizingly off. Butler converted two free throws before Semaj missed a runner (under heavy pressure) that Travis Taylor tipped back in. The ref's whistle briefly raised hopes for a three point play but, incredibly, the stripes saw that moment as the right one to try to rein things back in down low. Taylor's bucket was waved off. Xavier drew withing three again, but Kameron Woods running reception of Butler's final inbounds was deemed fair and the game was over. So close, and yet so far, Xavier left their final chance begging. It's now four in four days or bust.
- Can Xavier build some momentum? Winning this game was central to that plan, and that didn't happen. On a 17-5 run and threatening to stretch the lead, Xavier surrendered points on three straight Butler possessions and came up empty on three straight of their own. That little spurt was all it took.
- Will the bigs hold out on the glass? Kind of. Taylor and Philmore were workhorses, grabbing 19 of Xavier's 30 rebounds. That was enough to hold Butler to a draw on the glass, but one can only wonder what could have happened if Jeff Robinson, Justin Martin, and Erik Stenger could have combined to grab more than five. Dee Davis, Semaj Christon, and Brad Redford equaled those forwards in rebounding. That's not good.
- Justin Martin? Nope. A five point burst wasn't enough to get Martin into the game. One of our Twitter followers pointed out that Justin looks like he hates playing basketball. While that may be a bit harsh, Martin certainly wasn't engaged for this game. His 5/1/0 was an absolutely pathetic output from a player that Xavier desperately needed to change the game with his athleticism and skill. Instead, Martin's last attempt caught nothing but glass and no one looked even mildly surprised.
Tweet of the Game:
@bannersparkway Martin has totally checked out. Looks like he hates playing basketball.— Matthew Malone (@Ledcow) March 10, 2013
Next game: v St Joe, Thursday at 6:30.